Houndmouth – From the Hills Below the City (2013)

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This isn’t about singles, isn’t about a moment in time — a passing thought. No, Houndmouth’s From the Hills Below the City is an experience, expressed through the currency of relationships not encounters, constructed as a narrative.

Comparisons, inevitably, run toward the music of the Band, which staked out a stirring sense of continuity despite arriving amidst a youth-obsessed late-1960s culture of the now. Houndmouth records with a similar immediacy, too — with a wild-eyed freedom that plays out in fizzy instrumental moments and overlapped vocals.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they too find themselves surrounded by a world that they simply don’t belong to, seeking to connect back to one that makes more a lot more sense. From the Hills Below the City (due June 4, 2013 from Rough Trade) arrives absent this era’s typical talent-show fame, girded by phoned-in votes and Facebook comments. Instead, Houndmouth boasts a built-to-last sense of camaraderie — perhaps the last, most obvious link to the legacy that Robbie Robertson and Co. constructed with Music from Big Pink.

That said, the differences are consistent, notable — and all together impressive in their own right.

First, there’s this fizzy friction of male and female voices, entangled and forever working either in diametrics or in concert, taking the music to often unexpected places. When Katie Toupin, in a scaldingly honest moment during “Casino,” admits that she has more to trust in her smokes than her man, it’s like nothing that the Band ever did. “Houston Train” traces a similarly honest, similarly devastating storyline. Tough, forthright and fearless, she regularly adds a different dimension to this album.

Elsewhere, Matt Myers, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody stir in distinctively modern touches on tracks like “Ludlow,” which references steam punk even as it revels in a stamping Dixieland groove. The R&B-soaked “Palmyra” deals in such a visceral way with wounds that never heal, before letting loose a cathartic bluegrass-inspired finale.

In so doing, the New Albany, Indiana-based Houndmouth has made a contemporary recording that sounds old, fresh thoughts that sound vintage — something both timeless and brand new.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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